Do Meteorologists Suppress Thunderstorms?: Radar-Derived Statistics and the Behavior of Moist Convection

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Meteorologists and other weather enthusiasts sometimes lament that they live in weather holes—places that receive less exciting weather than do their surroundings . This belief seems to stem from countless hours spent gazing at thunderstorms on displays of radar reflectivity. To test objectively whether radar observations truly bear out this belief, the authors analyzed 6 yr of composite reflectivity from the Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) network. Statistics for 28 target cities, selected for their prominent meteorological communities, are compared with statistics for random points in the conterminous United States to see whether any of the targets is truly a weather hole or, perhaps, a hot spot—the counterpart to a hole. Holes and hot spots are defined by the frequency of convective echoes at a target relative to echoes in the surrounding region, and by the probability that convective echoes near a target were followed shortly by a convective echo at that target.

The data do, indeed, reveal mesoscale variability in occurrences of thunderstorms, as well as distinct signatures of storms' motion and the footprints of stormy regions at each target. However, although the data support the basic concept of convective weather holes and hot spots, only one of the meteorological targets fully met the authors' criteria for a hole and only one fully met their criteria for a hot spot. During the 6 yr studied, nearly all of the selected targets experienced convective storms about as often as their immediate surroundings did.

These results suggest that meteorologists are unnecessarily cranky about the frequency of storms in their hometowns. Meteorologists' belief that they live in weather holes may reveal the need to explore more deeply the statistical behavior of moist convection. The authors comment on some of the strengths and weaknesses of using composite reflectivity alone for that exploration and for determining weather holes and hot spots. Finally, the authors speculate that, with the proper quality control, statistics might serve in the near future as very powerful tools for probabilistic forecast guidance.

Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska

National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

*The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Dr. Matthew Parker, 214 Bessey Hall, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588-0340, E-mail: parker@updraft.unl.edu

Meteorologists and other weather enthusiasts sometimes lament that they live in weather holes—places that receive less exciting weather than do their surroundings . This belief seems to stem from countless hours spent gazing at thunderstorms on displays of radar reflectivity. To test objectively whether radar observations truly bear out this belief, the authors analyzed 6 yr of composite reflectivity from the Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) network. Statistics for 28 target cities, selected for their prominent meteorological communities, are compared with statistics for random points in the conterminous United States to see whether any of the targets is truly a weather hole or, perhaps, a hot spot—the counterpart to a hole. Holes and hot spots are defined by the frequency of convective echoes at a target relative to echoes in the surrounding region, and by the probability that convective echoes near a target were followed shortly by a convective echo at that target.

The data do, indeed, reveal mesoscale variability in occurrences of thunderstorms, as well as distinct signatures of storms' motion and the footprints of stormy regions at each target. However, although the data support the basic concept of convective weather holes and hot spots, only one of the meteorological targets fully met the authors' criteria for a hole and only one fully met their criteria for a hot spot. During the 6 yr studied, nearly all of the selected targets experienced convective storms about as often as their immediate surroundings did.

These results suggest that meteorologists are unnecessarily cranky about the frequency of storms in their hometowns. Meteorologists' belief that they live in weather holes may reveal the need to explore more deeply the statistical behavior of moist convection. The authors comment on some of the strengths and weaknesses of using composite reflectivity alone for that exploration and for determining weather holes and hot spots. Finally, the authors speculate that, with the proper quality control, statistics might serve in the near future as very powerful tools for probabilistic forecast guidance.

Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska

National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado

*The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Dr. Matthew Parker, 214 Bessey Hall, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588-0340, E-mail: parker@updraft.unl.edu
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